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Irresistible tales of the bear and the Bs

Pick of the page-turners are up against the 'pupil vote', reports Geraldine Brennan.

Just as the Government is helping primary schools to persuade children to read for pleasure, along comes a stack of books that readers up to the age of 11 will be un able to resist.

My fellow Nestle Smarties Book Prize judges and I have drawn up shortlists in three age groups, revealed today on the eve of National Children's Book Week.

We have chosen nine books, all notable for reader satisfaction and originality, from around 200 submitted. We have despaired over the odd disastrous jacket or missed opportunity in illustration, sighed over promising stories let down with a thud by their endings, and delighted in books that have got it right.

Now we have to hand over judging to children in 50 primary schools (being recruited this week by the organisers Booktrust), and wait for the announcement of the bronze, silver and gold winners at the British Library on December 8, followed by the prize's 20th birthday party.

In the category for nine to 11-year-olds, we have chosen three gripping novels. Two are by well-established authors: Sally Grindley's bleak but finally hopeful Spilled Water (Bloomsbury), about a young girl in China sold into an arranged marriage, and Eva Ibbotson's intriguing drama about a foundling and her true and false families, The Star of Kazan (Macmillan).

This season's new talent, Mal Peet, joins the line-up with his ultimate football story Keeper (Walker Books).

For six to eight-year-olds, the shortlist sees the same emphasis on a fully-rounded story, with two contenders trying out new ideas in structure.

In the age of multiple digital images, Geraldine McCaughrean's Smile! (Oxford University Press) sees a photographer stranded in the desert, where the tribal people who rescue him choose the subjects for his remaining few shots. Malorie Blackman's Cloud Busting (Doubleday) shifts between poetic forms in its tale of bullying, friendship and the power of imagination.

Fergus Crane by the wonder team of Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell (Doubleday) was described by one judge as "simply the perfect junior novel" (no missed opportunities here).

The books on the 0-5 shortlist not only have the letter B in common, they all touch on the child's view of relationships. Bartholomew and the Bug by Neal Layton sees a grizzly bear helping his new friend the mosquito live his short life to the full. Biscuit Bear by Mini Grey (Jonathan Cape) is for children who have been ordered by adults to "make friends". At night, Biscuit Bear puts on a pinny to make his friends, opens his own edible circus and escapes to safety when the cookies start to crumble.

No bears in My Big Brother Boris by Liz Pichon (Doubleday), only crocs.

Boris disappears into a teenage kingdom of headbanging music and pierced extremities, and no longer wants to play "imitating a floating log" with Little Croc. But they both still like chortling at embarrassing pictures of their Mum and Dad.

Booktrust has also announced the winners of the first Early Years Awards this week. The creators of the Gruffalo books, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, have won the pre-school award for The Snail and the Whale (Macmillan Children's Books). The Baby Book Award for children under a year old goes to I Love You by David Ellwand and Mike Jolley (Templar). The Best New Illustrator award goes to Polly Horner for her book Polly and the North Star (Orion Children's Books).

The other judges are TES columnist Libby Purves, broadcaster Mark Lawson, author Sally Gardner and Julia Eccleshare, director of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education.

National Children's Book Week on

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